Sunday, March 24, 2013

Waiting for Jedi


If you weren't born between 1965 and 1980, this might not mean much to you...

As I've thought about ways to write about my childhood, I've struggled to find a cohesive way of pulling together vastly different experiences into some kind of a relatable narrative. I did and saw so many different things. As children growing up in the late 1970's and 1980's the world was a very interesting place to live. Advances in technology were beginning to make it possible to experience things that no kids had ever experienced before. We saw things, and did things, for the first time. And in a lot of other ways we did things that kids have been doing for as long as there have been kids. We also did things that kids hardly do at all anymore. It was unique a crossroads in history -- the long, traditional past collided with a very rapidly expanding future, in a way that changed the world forever. 

The best way I have come up with to describe this world that helped to make me who I am, is to divide it into themes. When I say themes, I mean that term very broadly --- with a lot of subheadings below each title. Many of the themes are related to pop culture (but not all of them) -- things like movies and television and music. For close to a century most children's first exposure to any type of culture has been, for better or worse, pop culture. For my grandparents it was radio programs like Jack Benny and Amos and Andy. It was also the serial movies, down at the local theater on Saturday morning, and comic books of their favorite superheroes. My parents had radio and movies, and also ushered in the rise of television -- the Mickey Mouse Club, Gidget, Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy, as well as 45 rpm vinyl records -- The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones. We, the generation named "X," had all of the above, and added to the pop culture collage, video games. And MTV. And cassette tapes. And FM radio. For our children it's iPods and instant everything.

There are a lot of other themes too: Friendship, bicycles, neighborhood, scouting, school, divorce...things that affected all of us, to some degree or another. But, today I want to focus on one theme: movies. 

And one movie in particular: Return of the Jedi.

There were possibly more important movies, and undoubtedly better movies (both of the previous Star Wars movies, in the final analysis, were better), but I don't think, for my generation, that there was a more anticipated movie than Return of the Jedi. And here's why:

In 1977, Star Wars came out of nowhere. Nobody had ever seen a movie like that. It was a game changer. It affected the whole world, but I would argue that it affected no one more than the kids born in the late 60's and early 70's. One of the ways to tell who these kids were is to listen to what they call this movie -- it's not Episode IV, it's not A New Hope. It's Star Wars. 

Just Star Wars. 

For many of us, this was the first movie we ever saw, and it infected a generation of kids to our core. This is really a post for another time, but I don't think it's possible to convey the effect this movie had on us. It molded the way we think...the way we see the world. If you aren't about my age, you don't understand that statement. 

If you are my age, you know exactly what I mean. 

In 1977, Star Wars shocked everyone, and, at that time, no one but James Bond was doing sequels -- and no one used the word "trilogy" when talking about movies. Now, I can only speak for myself here, but when 1980 rolled around, and brought The Empire Strikes Back to theaters, that was nearly as surprising as the emergence of Star Wars three years earlier. The world we thought we knew had expanded. There were new characters: 



Boba Fett 


There were new worlds : 


Cloud City


There was romance. There was a dead tauntaun. There was carbonite! There was amputation by lightsaber! Darth Vader was Luke's father?!

That was bigger than Who Shot JR?!

Most importantly, The Empire Strikes Back was open ended. The story wasn't over. And that meant there was another movie. This time we all knew it. The expectation was off the charts.

All we did, in our little neighborhood circle of friends, for the next three years, was play Star Wars, and speculate what that next movie would be like. We concocted scenario after scenario, and all of them wrong. We played a lot of Hoth-like scenarios -- which made the winter bearable. We anticipated more of a Han Solo/Princess Leia/Luke Skywalker love triangle -- none of us caught the significance of that conversation between Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda about another Skywalker. We imagined more worlds. We tried to imagine what Jabba the Hut looked like. 

We heard rumor (first from Joseph Owen's mom) that the movie was to be called --Revenge of the Jedi. 

What a cool name!

Later it was officially changed to Return of the Jedi, which was not as cool of a name, but ultimately made more sense. 

And we all looked forward to May 25, 1983. 

The closer the release date came, the more consumed my life became by this movie. It was all I thought about. And then one day, shortly before Memorial Day, Kenner released the initial action figures for Return of the Jedi. And there was the Luke Skywalker figure. 

I was Luke Skywalker. 

He was dressed all in black. With a green lightsaber! I didn't dare to hope that his lightsaber would actually be green -- the toys got the color of Luke's lightsaber wrong all the time (seriously, did you ever see ANYONE with a yellow lightsaber?).

And what was that outfit that Lando was wearing? 

And what the heck is a Biker Scout? I don't know, but it sure looked cool!

What was a bad case of Star Wars Fever became full blown Malaria. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't concentrate at school. I was in a constant sweat. 

All I wanted to do was not die before May 25, 1983. 

Or May 26, 1983, as it turned out. 

There are a couple of things that don't quite jive at this point. 

First of all, my best friend, Aaron, somehow was able to get the golden ticket. He was getting out of school on Wednesday, the 25th, to see the movie, and Ami and I (the other two thirds of the Star Wars trio of Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker) were going to have to wait until the next day. That was a great imbalance in the Force, and looking back, I don't understand it. Ami and I missed school, just like Aaron did -- we just did it a day later. That makes no logical sense in my mind. We were inseparable. We didn't play Star Wars unless we were all there -- and we were always all there. So, WHY was Aaron going to Return of the Jedi before us? 

But he did. And then he came home and spent a good hour telling Ami and me all about it. I remember it distinctly. He stood in the my front doorway, and regaled us for a good hour about how they went back to Hoth, and how Han Solo and Leia got married and had kids, and on, and on. And after he completely sucked us in, after he had me practically unconscious from anticipation and envy -- he told us it was all a lie. Then he smiled and went home, and left us to see it the next day, unspoiled. 

So Aaron saw the movie on opening day, and I didn't. I didn't like it, but I could live with it. The real betrayal came later that afternoon, when my mom and my little brother came home...

Tim, my four year old brother, came wandering into the house, looking at a souvenir movie magazine (movie theaters used to give out things like that). I took a closer look at the magazine, when he put it down. It was for...RETURN OF THE JEDI!


I turned to my mom for an explanation...

"Oh," she said casually, "I took Tim to see Return of the Jedi this morning, while you were at school. It was really good, you're going to really like it."

I can't even type that sentence without my gut tightening up. I was so dumbfounded, the rest of the night is just a fuzzy red raging memory. I do remember wondering briefly if I had been adopted. I probably curled up in the fetal position and sucked my thumb until morning. That is the only time my mom ever betrayed me, and the wound is still fresh thirty years later. 


It's a dagger to the heart!

The most important movie of my young life, and not only did my best friend get to see it before me, but so did my four year old brother!

I went the next day, with Ami and Mario and their dad. We saw it in a theater half full of a bunch of geezers. It was everything I had hoped for -- when it was over I wanted to stand up and cheer, but no one else did it, so I kept quiet, and wondered what was wrong with everyone else. But this is about waiting for the movie, not actually reviewing it...

Incidentally, my mom made up for her betrayal (mostly) that summer. Nearly every weekend of the summer of 1983, we went to see Return of the Jedi. Eleven times, by my count -- still the most times that I've seen any movie in the theater, by a long shot.  

Of all the movies that mattered to me as a kid -- and this was a great time for movies, it was the heyday of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas -- none had such a profound effect on me, as Return of the Jedi.

Every year, as the summer movie season rolls around, I still get a giddy sense of anticipation. I admit it, I love summer movies. I came of age at the birth of the summer blockbuster.  And I feel sorry for kids today. Shortly after Return of the Jedi, came the rise of the multiplex. With the rise of the multiplex, came the rise of the sub par movie offering, and the cheap imitation. Kids today not only have a lesser quality of movie to look forward too, but the sheer volume of the offerings makes it impossible to obsess about one movie at a time. 

And, if you were born between 1965 and 1980, you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

1 comment:

Emily said...

I absolutely love your stories. I was born in 1979, so I didn't get to see them in the theater but I can relate to what you are talking about. What I loved was when my kids were old enough to watch them. I remember the first time we showed Star Wars to Jack and Alex and I were pratically bouncing around on the couch with excitement while my 6yo looked at us like we had two extra heads!